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NBA Player Slams China, and Fallout Is Immediate

Celtics games are blacked out after Enes Kanter speaks out on Tibet
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 21, 2021 11:10 AM CDT
NBA Player's Video Ticks Off China
Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter.   (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

(Newser) – The NBA's already-iffy relations with China are being tested with another controversy over free speech. In this case, Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter called Chinese leader Xi Jinping a "brutal dictator" and voiced his support for Tibet in a tweeted video, reports Reuters. In response, China has blacked out Celtics games and scrubbed Kanter from social media. So far, neither the NBA nor the Celtics have commented. Details:

  • Kanter's criticism: The player donned a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of the Dalai Lama and called China's treatment of Tibet a "cultural genocide, per the New York Times. "I say, 'Shame on the Chinese government,'" he said. "The Chinese dictatorship is erasing Tibetan identity and culture." He ended the video by saying, "Free Tibet" three times. Kanter also tweeted images of sneakers with a pro-Tibet message. He planned to wear them in Wednesday's game, but coaches didn't play him, notes the Washington Post.

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  • Fallout: Chinese internet giant Tencent has made Celtics games unavailable, and searches of Kanter's name on the social media platform Weibo yield no results, reports NBC News. A Celtics fan account on Weibo informed its 600,000 followers that it's done posting about the team. "Any behavior that undermines the harmony of the nation and the dignity of the motherland, we resolutely resist!" the page's administrator wrote. A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry says Kanter's video has "falsehoods ... not worth refuting."
  • Context: The controversy comes with the NBA still trying to recover from a 2019 tweet by Daryl Morey, then GM of the Houston Rockets, in favor of Hong Kong protesters, notes the Wall Street Journal. That tweet set off a similar backlash in China and dealt a setback to the league's plans to expand its fan base in the country. Morey apologized for his tweet, but his new team, the Philadelphia 76ers, is generally blacked out from broadcasts to this day.
  • Outspoken: Kanter grew up in Turkey and has frequently spoken out against Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. So much so that Turkey has revoked his passport and has warrants for his arrest out on defamation and even terrorism charges, per NBC. His anti-China remarks come as protesters ramp up their calls for a boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics over the way China treats ethnic minorities.
(Read more Boston Celtics stories.)

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